Sunday, September 28, 2008

Political Consciousness

Despite the disappointing result at Ludwig Field on Friday night, I do not regret in the least standing in a downpour for two hours watching a clinical Wake Forest team prove that they deserve to be called the best program in college soccer. I would quibble with the University's contention that there were 6,500 in attendance at the match -- there were substantially fewer people at the Wake Forest match than at the Duke game a week previous -- but the atmosphere was fantastic, more akin to a college football game than what would generally be expected at a soccer match on a university campus. The game was broadcast nationally on the Fox Soccer Channel and that certainly contributed to the frenetic energy surrounding the game.

FSC's broadcast also led to the attendance of Ethan Zohn, the winner of Survivor: Africa (which, frankly, means nothing to me, but he was instantly recognized by the people I was with). Mr. Zohn attended the match to promote Grassroot Soccer United, part of a non-profit organization (Grassroot Soccer) that he founded after the Survivor success. Grassroot Soccer has the ambitious goal of using futbol as a tool to provide an education to kids in Zimbabwe, Zambia, and South Africa (and nine other African countries through implementing partnerships) about HIV/AIDs.

A ten minute conversation with Mr. Zohn should be sufficient to sell anyone on Grassroot Soccer. Ethan played professional soccer as a keeper, including for Highlanders FC, a club team in Zimbabwe that has employed a number of American players (including Melrose Place's Andrew Shue; who, by the way, will join Kuno Becker, David Beckham, Stevie Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, and Sven-Goran Eriksson in Goal III, which I will go out on a limb now and state that it will be another step down from Goal II and Goal). He is, in result, extremely knowledgeable and passionately articulate about his cause and refreshingly self-deprecating about himself and his role in the effort. Meeting Ethan was an absolute pleasure for all of us and we look forward to supporting Grassroot Soccer's endeavors.

Changing gears and sports, the family spent yesterday afternoon at The Historical Society of Washington D.C. I do not have any burning desire to go the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton or the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown -- although when Ron Santo is finally enshrined, we will make the trip to New York. But I would like to travel to Kansas City to see the Negro League Baseball Museum. One of my proudest possessions is a signed baseball from Buck O'Neil that I bought at a charity event several years back. His short book, I Was Right on Time, adorns my bookshelf and is a must-read for every diehard Cubs fan (it is an important reminder of the sins of the franchise and, ultimately, the redemption of the North Siders). In Mr. O'Neil's honor, we will provide some small support to the development of his hall of education at the NLBM.

The story of Negro League baseball is, to me, one of the most important historical narratives of the United States and, in turn, one of the central reasons why I have adopted unwavering faith and optimism in this country. It also justifies the disproportionate attention I pay to what is, at best, recreational activity. Although my legal education has attempted to convince me that the equality of races in the United States was established in the courts through the heroism of the NAACP, the truth, I think, is that equality -- and acceptance of this bedrock principle of the American experiment with respect to race -- was established through myriad means and none less important than the exceptional achievements of athletes on various playing fields. It was, therefore, a singular pleasure to spend a few hours at the "Separate but Unequaled: Black Baseball in the District of Columbia" exhibit yesterday, with homage paid to the greats of the Homestead Grays, particularly Cool Papa Bell and Josh Gibson.

This Saturday, the Historical Society will host a talk on the journalist Sam Lacy by his son, Tim Lacy, and the founder of the Negro Legends Hall of Fame, Dwayne Sims, which should be fascinating for anyone interested in the history of sports or race relations in the United States.

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